Feb 29, 2012 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
All parents share that startling moment of reverse recognition, usually while attending an elementary school function, when the focus of dominance shifts. I heard it first at a parent-teacher conference when Sumner School still served the Westcott Nation. “You must be Lorca’s father.” The last time I heard it was at her wedding, with a bridesmaid identifying me from an electric blue suit with gangsta hat in contrast to everyone else’s (including ladies) Brooks Brothers pinstripes. I will hear it again Saturday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at ArtRage, 515 Hawley Ave., corner of North Crouse, when the movie Lorca Shepperd made in collaboration with her husband Cabot Philbrick, “Other People’s Pictures,” will be shown. Lorca and Cabot will be on hand for a talkback afterward.
This OPP is a 50 minute documentary which snagged the best in category trophies at the New Orleans Film Festival and the Coney Island Film Festival in 2004 and the Ozone Film Festival the next year. It focuses on nine collectors of mostly snapshots, usually connecting to an emotionally evolved category. “The realization that you shouldn’t lay out $100 for a snapshot,” is articulated by one of the collectors. But enough do to maintain the market. And the assessment of quality is entirely relative. Another collector notes that what one person calls lack of composition, another will call art. A third asks why people collect anything, musing it all to be in the eye of the beholder.
While the dealers at Manhattan’s Chelsea Flea Market accommodate collectors sorting by categories, there is obvious appeal from boxes holding hundreds of unsorted photos. “Some dealers use mess as guile,” a collector observes. “They count on your desire to rescue an image.” Categories emerge among the collectors: photos at the beach, Kodacolor squares, snapshots with the photographer’s shadow, nudes, uniformed Nazis in family poses, homoerotic sailors and mutilated shots with holes torn where images once held the faces of past friends or lovers. While the dealers in the film refer to binders of collectables ranging from $2 to $10 each, and boxes of the unsorted for 50 cents a piece, word on the street has some people having spent from $200 to $300 for one OPP.
As is the nature of flea markets, haggling has its place in what most involved refer to as “the hunt.” In one scene a collector and dealer debate the value of an historical image. Is Leopold III, King of the Belgians, worth $7 or $5? “Just as a million monkeys writing will produce Shakespeare,” one collector maintains, “a million people snapping will produce some truly transcendent images.” For him, the obsession started when he discovered a trash day box containing “a family’s whole life cast out on the street.” Having sifted through literally hundreds of thousands of other people’s pictures, another reflects, “You can sort really quickly if you are focused on what you want.”